At age 75, many things about life become clearer. Experience over time is a wonderful teacher. I realize now that choice of college and medical school, which surgical field to enter, where to locate and begin work, etc. were not the landmark decisions of my life. True, I had many noteworthy experiences as a result of these choices. If I “google search” my mind, many of these events come up. For example, I received a six-figure check for selling a practice. On another occasion, I received a call from a colleague asking if I would repair a broken hip—on the mother of a sitting president, which I did. Afterward, I spoke with him a few times when he called from Air Force One. I remember being offered an academic position at Tulane University, where I was an orthopedic resident. I could recall other events if I set my mind to it, but these experiences, though somewhat momentous, rarely ever come up on my memory screen unless I am preparing a speech or a project such as this writing. They are on the “backroads of my mind, as John Denver sang.
But hardly a day goes by when I don’t visualize myself standing on the ambulance ramp behind Charity Hospital in New Orleans, looking south down Gravier Street and seeing a blue Chevrolet Carryall (now called a Suburban) turning off Loyola Ave, our three preschool children peering out the windows, coming to have dinner with daddy. (When I was on orthopedic trauma call, I would not be home for 36 hours. Family was that important to my wife. The sentinel event of my life, apart from my decision to follow Christ, was the day I stopped my car at Duke University’s East Campus to give several girls a ride to Wright Refuge, an emergency foster care facility, where we would spend the afternoon playing and tutoring the children. A newly arrived freshman, Charlotte was one of them. Our attraction was instanteous, and we became friends. The circumstances of our meeting indicated compatibility and a little more than a year and a half later, we were married.
Charlotte was on a social work track and earned her Masters from the University of North Carolina the year I finished Medical School. I was unaware she turned down a faculty position to follow me to New Orleans. (I learned many years later she feared if I had known, I might have stayed at Duke and not taking the internship I thought would most forward my career.) She prayed, and our marriage took priority. She worked in her field until our first child was born. Then she became a mother, and our family took priority. In addition to our first three, we added two more children and a foster daughter.
From the day we married, throughout out life together, I have been blessed with the most loving and loyal wife imaginable. Our family has been anchored around her. Long days of hard work and fears of lawsuits were soothed by her presence, her faith, and her unwavering support. No matter how exhausted, I came home to a haven of love and trust. I only hope I have been the loving husband she deserves and the father our children deserve. Sure, I have former patients who can now walk again, or use their hand to paint, but my greatest satisfaction is seeing Charlotte with our grandchildren on her lap, or at the dinner table, because our son, who loves and misses her, begged us to fly across the country to visit Seattle and meet two new grandchildren just adopted from China. I pray I have made her life as happy and fulfilling as she has made mine. If so, then my life has been well-lived. I want to be remembered as husband, father, and grandfather, who made his living as an orthopedic surgeon and did mend many people. However, someone else could have done that job just as well, but only I could have been Charlotte’s husband—and I wouldn’t trade that for anything!
The time for you to prioritize such relationships, create such memories, is now, while your future is in front of you.